Oklahoma moves to ban castor beans

Bills outlawing the sale and transportation of castor beans, the main ingredient in the biotoxin ricin, were recently placed among the first to be filed in anticipation of Oklahoma’s first legislative session.

Ricin, which can be extracted from crushed castor beans, is extremely potent. A dose equivalent to a few grains of salt is capable of causing death. Recently, four Georgia men were arrested on terrorism charges that included a plan to use the deadly poison, according to TulsaWorld.com.

Oklahoma Republican State Senator Mike Schultz and Republican Representative Dale DeWitt were not thinking in terms of terrorism when they filed castor bean bills. They were primarily concerned about an inadvertent contamination of the food supply.

"Prohibiting castor beans may not be something we want for the long-range," DeWitt said, TulsaWorld.com reports. "But until we have more research into ways of lowering the ricin levels, we have to be very careful with it."

In Oklahoma, castor beans are fairly common as ornamentals, but as a commercial product, they are virtually unknown. Castor beans, however, are made up of 50 percent or more oil, making them a promising potential biofuel.

Wheat growers and other crop producers are concerned that a burst of speculative growing might spread castor and ricin residue into fields, planting and harvesting equipment, and storage bins and eventually into the food supply.

"It's a difficult thing when you tell somebody what they can or can't raise," DeWitt said, TulsaWorld.com reports. "But we have to be careful with the castor bean."